10 ways we can build bridges instead of bomb them

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, friendship, healing, synchroblog 28 Comments

we build too many walls

today is the april synchroblog and a theme i am really glad we’re tackling together: bridging the divides.  the schism within christianity between those of a more liberal persuasion and those from a more conservative one keep getting bigger & bigger. as a post-evangelical mutt, i notice how hard it is to engage in these differences without it feeling personal, judgmental, and tiring. but the reality is that we are brothers & sisters and we have to figure out how to love each other better. the best way to turn the tide in a more helpful direction is to participate in any way we can in healthy communication & work to build bridges instead of bomb them. i wrote a week-long series on this last year, and those posts are on the “healing the divides” series link (near the bottom).

but for this week, in the spirit of building bridges instead of bombing them, i thought i’d share 10 ways to foster healing and healthier conversations amidst our differences. some of these are included in 8 ways those of a more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasion can better love each other and some are new:

1. remember first, that that person is a child of God, made in God’s image.  this is the starting place for dignified dialogue and often gets missed. when we hold each other’s dignity right in front of us, it always helps.

2. take “God says” and “the Bible says” off the table. they are trump cards that immediately create a barrier between us. a much better alternative is “my interpretation of the scriptures is…” “as i engage with the Bible, i personally see…” owning our own views is really important; claiming absolute understanding of God’s views in either direction is unfair.

3. never question someone’s christian-ness. both sides of this divide have been hurt by this assumption. there are lots of ways to be a christian.

4. assume the best in the other, not the worst. this is hard for me because of the stereotypes and frustrations of social media and bad history. it’s easy to always lump everyone together and assume the worst instead of the best. i’m not saying throw out discernment, but when it comes to building bridges, we need to be careful we’re not coming into these conversations with guns already loaded.

5. respect our different biblical interpretations. the Bible is a wild and beautiful book that can be viewed in many different ways. a biblical interpretation different from ours doesn’t automatically mean stupidity or lack of biblical literacy or bad practice or a whole host of other things that can get thrown into the conversation. it’s best to just remember that none of us have an exemption on seeing through the glass darkly, and we each have to make peace with what we believe about the scriptures.

6. affirm what we do love and appreciate about each other.  whenever we do pastoral counseling for marriages, we always ask couples to work on affirming the good instead of only focusing on the bad. it’s true, we all need encouragement, especially when so many of these tiring conversations have beaten us down.

7. learn more about nonviolent communication. i can’t say enough about how helpful these tools are (and how difficult they are to apply) but they will help us discover our real needs underneath our strong feelings. often, we have a lot more needs in common than we may think, and nonviolent communication can help with empathy and connection in tangible ways. becoming safer people helps us have safer conversations.

8. be open to learning from each other, be curious. this is hard for both sides but this attitude of humility really helps. i know it can be extra tricky when those of us from a more liberal persuasion started our spiritual journey on the more conservative side and might assume we already know everything over there. i really struggle with this but am trying to be more open to what i can learn from my more conservative friends without just assuming. asking questions, being curious, and deeper dignified dialogue inquiry helps with understanding.

9. embrace paradox.  paradox means two contradictory things can exist in the same space. that means we can live together in our differences, in all our strengths and all our weaknesses. we don’t have to squeeze one side out but rather embrace the beauty of our diversity.  diversity can strengthen, not weaken, but we have to honor it. the Bible is full of paradoxes, so it makes perfect sense the church would be too.

10.  most of all, put relationship above our differences. this is so hard to do online, when we aren’t eye to eye and heart to heart, but we need to try to never let theological differences get in the way of Love when we’re talking about real people in our lives. i’m not saying stay in unsafe or harmful relationships; i’m saying at the end of the day, choose friendship and hope over divides and positions. it’s always worth it. God can sort out all of the details later.

and an 11th, because without them, we’re toast.

11.  laugh more, hug more. i know these are serious matters we’re talking about, but honestly, we have become so intense that we have missed out on the funny parts, the importance of laughing at ourselves and with each other and then hugging it out at the end of the day. we have got to learn to agree to disagree with love at the center. but these only work when we are friends first.

there are so many more possibilities but i hope that some of these foundational thoughts can help build bridges toward each other and heal some of these great divides.

God, help me, help us, become bridge builders instead of bridge bombers. we want to brave & humble & open.

i’d love to know what you’d add, too.


ps: on wednesday june 11th, my friend and teammate karl wheeler and i are hosting a fun evening called “an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church…” it’ll be a dignified dialogue beyond just our own differences and will hopefully stir up some healthy conversation and bridge some divides.  we really can live together in these differences, but it is hard and oh-how-we-need-God’s-help to make it work!

also, please check out other bloggers bringing hope and practice to bridge these divides:

post-traumatic church syndrome is Real (and worthy of a capital letter)

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, healing 44 Comments

post traumatic church syndrome

there’s a new book coming out later this year by reba riley called “post-traumatic church syndrome: a humorous memoir of healing, hope, and 30 religions before 30″. i don’t know much about the book yet, but i am really looking forward to reading it. i do know that the facebook group called “post-traumatic church syndrome” has over 1,800 members & growing.

that’s because church trauma is real.

Real (and worthy of a capital letter here).

i love her term and think it’s so accurate.

since i’ve been blogging, i have been talking about church PTSD realities in all kinds of ways. it’s a big part of our walking wounded class & definitely a part of faith shift, but i like her term much better and am hoping it really takes hold. i am also so glad that more attention is being drawn to this important reality for so many former faithful & dedicated christians.

what once was a place of belonging is now a place of trauma and angst.

i know a lot of people who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for different reasons–abuse, trauma, the military, etc.  here is a general summary of the symptoms of regular PSTD:

  • avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind us of the trauma
  • loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • anger & irritability
  • guilt, shame or self-blame
  • hypervigilance, on constant “red alert”, feeling jumpy and easily startled
  • feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • feeling alienated and alone
  • depression

any of these feel familiar related to church?

a lot of you have experienced some kind of church trauma–giving your hearts for years and finding yourself on the outs, never fitting in or being valued properly, run-ins with leadership related to theology or practice or beliefs, inequality, firings & shunnings & asked-to-leaves, neglect, spiritual abuse, slipping out of favor once you started saying no, or just a slow drift that no one seemed to care about (yep, that’s traumatic, too).  there are so many potential reasons.

i’d also specifically add these potential church-related symptoms:

  • strong allergic reaction to certain words, phrases, songs, or scriptures
  • anxiety at the thought of walking through the doors of a church
  • complete panic at the thought of sitting through a service
  • bursts of anger & rage at the thought of having another conversation about your views on equality, homosexuality, same-sex-marriage, or “biblical” anything.
  • if you had a run-in with leadership, re-playing of particular conversations over and over like a movie
  • feelings of deep sadness and loss that are hard to articulate
  • a sense of no moorings related to all-things-faith that leave us feeling aimless, lost, and confused.

you’ve probably got some you’d add, too.

church PTSD is so real!

i am 8 years out from my huge church trauma & drama, and it still rears its head sometimes. plus, even though i’ve been “out”, i have also been “in” because i am still a pastor of a little crazy church. because of that role, in different ways, i am sometimes in conversations that have felt like defending my faith because of my leanings-to-the-left. and often even when the conversation doesn’t go that way, i am sure it might and am already on the defense. honestly, it feels nuts. and although i can recognize it and bounce back a lot more quickly, it’s still there.

and i’m really trying to keep healing so i can feel more free & comfortable engaging without it tripping a crazy wire inside.

every easter week, i also always remember how hard it is for a lot of people i know. and easter hope feels a lot more like easter hope-less. some friends who are loosely connected to the refuge in some way just stay away during this time of year because it’s too triggering and weird. i know i can feel a little cringe-y when i hear certain things, too. and for so many others across the map, this time of year just feels lonely and weird to not be connected to the places and people that used to be so fun at easter-time.

and while there’s a lot of tough stuff floating around, i also know many others who used to have an extra hard time around easter but are now are finding themselves free-er and free-er every year. i am so glad for that. it’s also one of the huge bonuses i get from blogging & connecting with church-burnouts all these years–i really see movement through the pain into new places.

if you don’t have church PTSD and don’t understand it and are annoyed by it, please know this: it’s not exaggerated emotions or rebellion or a hardened heart or a lack of faith or loyalty.  there are no simple fixes for the crazy stuff that happens over the course of our faith journey that can mess with our heads and hearts.

it’s real.

it deserves respect.

and if you have post-traumatic-church syndrome and its symptoms are rearing its head right now, i just wanted to say out loud–you’re not crazy, you’re not alone.

may healing continue to come…

peace and hope from colorado, kathy

the unexpected.

kathyescobar advent & lent, incarnational, jesus is cool 9 Comments

each one of them is jesus in disguise

yesterday was palm sunday and we had a really fun & sweet palm sunday dinner together at the refuge, one of our annual traditions. one of the reasons i like this particular day in holy week is it’s the time when we remember the anticipation and excitement of Jesus’ riding into jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy and save the day. so many thought that this was their moment, the time when the messiah, the king, would topple the power structures and save the day.

little did they know that what they expected would turn out so much different just a few days later when instead of kicking ass and taking names, he’d humbly die on the cross right before everyone’s very eyes.

God does the weirdest, most unexpected things.  

it got me thinking about the perception of christians in this world, especially in the west right now. goodness gracious, we have a bad reputation. and for good reason.

we are often known for what we are against, not what we are for.

we are often known for being judgmental and exclusive.

we are often known for taking care of ourselves, not others.

we are often known for our “biblical” interpretations about women in leadership, the GLBQT community, and those of other faiths that perpetuate division and oppression.

we are often known for abusing power & creating celebrity christian empires that eventually fall because of corruption or adultery or abuse.

in fact, i think that’s what the world has come to expect about us as christians–the worst.

and it makes me sad because there are so many amazing christ-followers all over the place doing so many wild & beautiful & underground & unnoticed & tangible & scary & brave & glorious things on behalf of healing and reconciliation.  their stories often aren’t the ones being told. and often, they don’t tout their christian-ness.   

sometimes when i am talking to public agencies or organizations that aren’t faith-based, they admit that their impression of christians hasn’t been the best. they’ve come to expect that we aren’t very safe, don’t play well with others, and are mainly interested in evangelism, not unconditional caring & practical help.

this holy week, i am always reminded that Jesus’ ways and the ways-of-the-church-that-have-adopted-the-world’s-power-mongering-and-division-y ways are so contrary.

Jesus, from birth to death to resurrection to reappearance, is all about the unexpected.

like mind-boggling, soul-stirring, heart-shifting unexpected.

that’s what i love.

and it makes me think that that is what we should be giving the world as his followers, too--the unexpected, not the status quo.

and the unexpected these days means:

showing up when no one else will.

touching lepers, dining with the riff-raff, and advocating for the one-about-to-be-stoned-for-their-sin

playing well with others.

caring for the poor instead of the pretty and popular.

empowering women and others who have been considered less-than.

listening instead of talking.

receiving instead of just giving.

sharing our doubts instead of only our certainties.

having fun instead of being so freaking serious all the time.

throwing parties.

sharing our broken stories instead of just our fixed ones. 

putting relationship above belief.  

yeah, that’s unexpected.

happy holy week. you don’t have to call it that or practice it or feel connected to it in the traditional way to play.

i suppose that’s unexpected, too.


ps: my friend christine sine always has all kinds of lovely treasures for holy week on her site. check them out here.  also, a few different people shared a new resource with me–the liturgists–that has some wild and beautiful liturgies on it. enjoy!

the difference between “cultivating communities” and “building churches”

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, dreams, incarnational, leadership, the refuge 15 Comments

eat laugh practice stay

i originally wrote this post in 2010, and it’s part of down we go. but in the past couple of weeks i’ve had some interesting conversations that reminded me of it and i thought i’d pare it down and re-post it. it’s funny, still, after these years, my thought is pretty much the same except for adding one more point at the end.

there’s a huge difference between cultivating a community & building a church.  

like the word “pastor”, the word “church” has become gravely misunderstood. if the average person was asked what they thought of when they heard the word “church”, most people would say “sunday morning, music or worship, a sermon, prayer, potlucks, either really boring or really inspiring (depending on which kind of churches they’ve been part of).”

i doubt that people would associate the word church with deep and meaningful connections with people, carrying each other’s burdens, eating with one another, sharing resources, advocating for the marginalized, sacrificing comfort, and bringing the good news to hard places together in practical, tangible ways.” 

i personally think it’s fairly easy to build a “church.” the typical elements are not that hard to find–a gathering place, music, a good message, and some kind of programmatic glue will usually do the trick. if the music and message are good enough, some Christians out there will come. i’m not saying they’ll come in droves–that’s a unique phenomenon these days, but if the basic elements are there, certain people will come and find what they are looking for.

cultivating real community is a whole other animal.

over the course of the refuge, we’ve muddled around in all kinds of ways and have definitely had our shares of ups & downs & “what in the $(#&!@*^! are we doing?” moments, but i’d say the one thing that has always been central is focusing on cultivating a diverse, experiential, advocacy-infused, transformational healing community.

it’s also why we’re small. sometimes it’s all just…weird. the formulas work for a reason.

formulas can build churches.

but the formulas don’t create community.

finding ways to knit hearts together, share life and meals, gather around a common purpose but allow for a wide range of diversity and perspectives, nurture a spirit of justice and action, and somehow create a safe and challenging container to learn to love Jesus, ourselves and others and be loved by Jesus, ourselves, and others requires a whole different way of thinking.

here are a few of my thoughts about the difference between “cultivating communities” and “building churches”

  • cultivating a community requires an extremely high level of relationship that many of us haven’t learned to really do. this is where i think “church” has done a disservice to many; we have often focused on bible teaching but not bible applying. even though we know it doesn’t work that way, we keep thinking “teaching about love” will equal love. the way to learn how to love is to have chances to practice love. we practice in close relationship and have our lives rub up against each other. Jesus’ call to us love, really love, can’t be ignored, and like so many other ways of the kingdom it requires a level of commitment that most of us aren’t really excited to make. being devoted to sacrificial love for one another can’t happen when we sit in the pews and listen to a message and just go home or only hang out in a small group that talks about the bible but never what’s going on in the deep places of our heart and experience.
  • cultivating a community isn’t measurable. relationships can’t be measured. life change never happens in a snap. slogging it out over the long haul is brutal and tries our patience. the fruit is harder to see, sometimes completely imperceptible to the un-Jesus-trained eye. the “results” we tend to look for as humans is sometimes elusive. church building looks for quicker fixes, success stories, measurables, things to capitalize on to take it to the next level.
  • cultivating a community requires breaking down power differentials. that’s what i love about true community, brothers and sisters of all walks of life really in the trenches together. it’s also why i appreciate jean vanier’s book, community and growth, so much, too. real community crosses gender, socioeconomics, education, and other great divides that tend to typically separate us. in community, the relationships aren’t “to” or “for” but they are truly “with.” and in real community, everyone can play and participate, not just the pretty, popular, or powerful.
  • cultivating a community usually doesn’t provide financial stability. i whine about money all the time because i know the pressure that could be lifted if the refuge could get a big church’s coffee budget for the year. but i’m also glad we don’t compromise our values and our core DNA to attract a certain type of people who would help us not have to struggle so much. though some who have means to help with $ do come and stay, they don’t have more power or voice and are in the same boat, just looking for a place to love and be loved like all of us. we are all here because we want to be together. it also means we always have more needs than resources but somehow it always works out in the end.
  • cultivating a community values diversity not homogeneity.  this means holding the tension of a wide variety of differences together and honoring that true unity is not uniformity. it’s recognizing the image of God in each and every person and the value that that person, with their unique beliefs, perspectives, gifts, and experiences, brings to the community.

my dream is that more and more people will experiment with radically different models of living in community together in a wide variety of contexts.

the world doesn’t need more “churches” but i think it desperately needs more communities.

what are some of your thoughts & experiences on the difference between cultivating communities & building churches?


ps: i’ve got a post up this week at sheloves magazine that folds right into this. communities are a place to help remind us who we really are, because sometimes we forget.  i hope we can play our part in helping others remember the image of God they bring to this world.

healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, dreams, equality, faith shifts, incarnational, leadership, women in ministry 29 Comments

henri nouwen we keep forgetting who we are

it was a great weekend at transform 2014 in san diego. it was lovely & inspiring hanging out with old friends & making some new ones, and on my middle-of-the-night-and-trying-to-stay-awake drive from san diego to LAX to catch a morning standby flight that ended up getting cancelled, i had a lot of time to reflect.

and a weird thing happened as i was driving:  i started crying for the church

no matter how mad i get at it, no matter how frustrated i am at the same-old-same-old conversations, no matter how grieved i feel over how far it has strayed from what i think was the big idea, i still love it.

i still believe that it could and should be the most transforming force in the world since it’s supposed to be the representative, the ambassador, the living-flesh-and-blood spirit of Jesus here on earth. 

i still believe in what could be.

i still believe that somehow it will prevail even though i think it will begin to look much different.

through some different encounters, i was struck this weekend by how broken the church is, how divided we have become, how much pain exists, how the chasm between progressives & evangelicals is so hard to bridge, how difficult it is for us to find unity in the midst of this tricky shift in christianity.

i also saw so much hope & beauty that is emerging despite the obstacles. 

i am incredibly grateful to be connected to people who truly care about change and are trying to be ministers of hope in the midst.  it is no easy task.

as i was driving in the dark up I-5, i was thinking that while i firmly believe we need dreamers & boat-rockers & prophets to speak into change in the church and help everyone imagine a better future, i also think there’s a critical need for another group to rise up to help nurture this movement as it struggles and strains to move to new places:  we desperately need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators!


this is what’s sorely missing.

the pain, the division, the fear, the criticism, the mistrust is so real.

i am more convinced than ever we need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators–guides, pastors & shepherds (the good kind), and spiritual midwives–to make it to the other side. 

here’s the role they can play:

healers / there is an incredible amount of woundedness related to faith & church & life. the stories sometimes make me weep, so many deeply dedicated people who have lost so much along the way–beliefs & doctrine, structures & churches and relationships & community.  we need people who won’t minimize this pain or magnify it but will tend to it with love & offer safe spaces and places for stories to be told and hope to be found so we can begin to get up off our knees and walk again. faith shifts are hard but don’t have to be quite as devastating, but because there are so few healing communities to grieve properly, we get stuck and lost in the process. we need more healing spaces, therapists, pastors, and spiritual directors & guides to help us navigate these changes & uncover hope.

bridge-builders / if we’re not careful, this evangelical-progressive theological war is going to get worse & worse. we all can see how it’s getting crazier by the day. as a person who’s done my share of bridge-bombing, i feel clear it’s time for me to enter into a better season of bridge-building.  we need people who can hold the space for dignified dialogue between those of more liberal persuasions and those of more conservative ones. to find what we agree on instead of only center on what we don’t. to lay down our swords & harmful words and find ways to make peace. to learn to listen & understand each other better. to learn to agree to disagree and put love & relationship above all. to foster unity and diversity, not uniformity. to cross divides between government agencies & different faith streams & other brothers and sisters who care about similar things.

community cultivators / there’s a big difference between building churches and cultivating communities. we definitely need new wineskins for new wine, more women, more shared leadership, more living systems. we need places of equality & justice & healing and vibrant & diverse & flexible & challenging & transformational communities of all shapes and sizes to emerge. we need so many more options for people who leave traditional church to actually find places to live out their passion for justice & mercy & community & healing with others without feeling so lonely & fragmented. we need little pockets of love and freedom to pop up all over the place so that we can all become more whole. we need communities of contemplative action, nurtured by a deep sense of God’s presence & calling and bravely dedicated to practice. we need people and groups who will partner with government agencies, non-faith-based organizations, other nonprofits & churches-not-like-us for the common good; collaboration is what will sustain us.

yeah, we need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators to help nurture a more hopeful future.

without them, the bruises & scars of all this change are going to be our defining mark instead of signs of life & hope.

if you are some form of a healer, a bridge-builder, a community cultivator, please know your gifts, your heart, your presence, your leadership, your imagination is desperately needed out here.

we need to you to help us remember who we are.

may you step up and out and help us all move toward a better place together.